Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Razmara Compass

When an observant Muslim worshipper prays, he/she faces in the direction of the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.  It is a sign of unity.  Before the common use of GPS technology, how did the worshipper determine that direction, called the Qibla, when outside a mosque or home?  They used a compass, of course.  Our object this week is an adapted compass. In 1952, the Iranian Hossein Ali Razmara invented a new compass to determine the direction of Mecca.   The new compass was also adapted for use by the blind in this "contact" model. It is small, only about 2 inches in diameter.  The face is open, so that the magnetic needle can be felt. Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Rainbow Peg Board

Our object this week is a solitaire game manufactured in the 1940s by the Albany Association for the Blind in New York.  If you’ve ever been to Cracker Barrel, it is a lot like the peg game they leave on all the tables, but much more difficult.  The board is a green octagon with thirty-three holes drilled in it, each filled with a colored wooden peg.  On our version someone has numbered the holes in pencil, one through thirty-three.  To start the game, you remove one of the pegs at random, then you can “jump” any peg by moving an adjacent peg over it to a vacant hole, removing the jumped peg.  Like the Cracker Barrel game, the object is to have a single peg left at the end.
Photo caption: The Rainbow Peg Board and its colorful box.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Klein Pin Type--Another Method for Writing Tactile Letters

Johann Wilhelm Klein (1765-1848) founded the Blindeninstitut Wien (Vienna Institute for the Blind) in 1804.  We tend to focus on the inventions of the French—and they were significant! —but the Austrians and Germans made important early contributions to education for people who were blind too.  Around 1807 Klein developed pin-type, a portable device allowing the user to emboss capital letters of the Latin alphabet by piercing the paper with needles arranged on a block. With some difficulty, the method could be read both by touch and sight.  Eventually Klein pin-type boxes were also manufactured and used in other European countries and the U.S.  It is a flat wooden box, hinged on one side, a wooden grid in the base holds metal types, each with a raised letter on one end and a series of needles in the rough shape of the letter on the other.  A frame in the lid is hinged to lift up so a piece of paper can be inserted between the frame and a wool pad.  The frame keeps the lines of your type neat and straight.
This example came from the l'Institution des Jeunes Aveugles in Still, France.  That school was founded in 1895.  Although not marked, it is identical to a second example from that school which featured Blindeninstitut Wien markings.  The three accented vowels suggest it is a German language box.  French language sets include many more accented vowels.  The town of Still is located in the much fought-over region of Alsace-Lorraine, which was controlled by Germany between 1871 and 1918.  As with so many other writing tools, the invention of the typewriter made inventions like this obsolete.
Photo Captions: #1 Wooden case of pin type; #2 Detail of the alloy types, with raised letter on top, and needles on bottom.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Apple Talking Literacy Kit

Our object this week celebrates the first computer software produced by the American Printing House for the Blind, the Talking Apple Literacy Kit, published in 1986.  Today, we know Larry Skutchan as the head of our TPR—Technology Product Research—area, but back in the mid-1980s, he was just another whiz kid we had hired to dip our toe into microcomputing.  Larry had done a lot of pioneering work on voice synthesis and word processing, so it was only natural that we put him to work on talking software.  The Apple IIe computer was pretty advanced for its time, and worked well with early voice synthesis modules like the Echo.  Larry reminded me this morning that computers were new to just about everybody, even the most basic concepts, like how to turn the thing on.  The Literacy Kit introduced new computer users to the mouse, and the idea of a cursor that you could move around a block of text to edit or insert new material. It included some games, like Dragon Maze and Space Invaders.   The manual came on two audio cassettes and in braille, and the programs were written on three black plastic “floppy disks,” each of which could hold about 1 megabyte of data.  By comparison, most people carry around phones today that can hold 32,000 megabytes, and those are the most basic models!
Photo caption:  The Talking Apple Literacy Kit came in a blue three-ring binder with pockets for disks and cassettes. The first photo is the outer binder; the second is a shot with it opened to show the diskettes.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Braille Tiles--A 19th Century Braille Teaching Tool

Our object this week is a new find, something I found in France with the help of our good friend, Mireille Duhen, a volunteer at the Association Valentin Haüy.  It is a beautiful set of nineteenth century braille tiles, a braille teaching tool.  The tin box holds six rows of red wooden tiles, with the braille symbols picked out in nickel-plated brass pins, and the print symbol stamped below.  Each tile is about the size of a domino.  The tiles are arranged in sets of ten, just as Louis Braille intended his code to be taught.  Braille originally published his system in 1829, but this set of teaching tiles reflects French braille as published in his second edition in 1837.  The use of nickel plating technology on the pins suggests a date in the second half of the nineteenth century when that process became practical for ordinary hardware.  The code is somewhat different from modern French braille, switching the symbols for parentheses and quotes, among other things. Photo Caption:
Flat tin box holding six rows of red wood braille tiles.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

3 Reasons for Using a Fake Name for Your Service Animal in Public and 5 Tips for Choosing the Best One for You

Photo Caption: a black lab that's outside by a park railing laying in the shade and looking out beyond the railing.

I took my seat on the Paratransit vehicle, across from a colleague, a lady with her dog guide. The third traveler on the vehicle asked the lady what her dog’s name was; her reply totally took me by surprise.

“What did she just call that dog? That’s not that dog’s name!”

That was exactly what I was thinking. The other rider said hi to the dog using this fake name and then went about his business. The driver dropped him off, and immediately I asked the lady why she gave the guy a different name for her dog. You will discover her answer as we provide 3 reasons why you, also, may wish to use a false name for your service animal in public. Then we will offer 5 tips for picking the best made-up name for your service animal.

The Problem

Traveling with a service animal (a guide dog in my particular case) has many benefits; the admiring public often is not one of them. Sure, it’s great when people tell you how cute your dog is; it’s much more troubling when they want to stop and “Converse” with him, repeating his name time and time again.

Based on the incident outlined above and another similar one I witnessed a few months later, I decided that the “Fake name” idea was a good one. Here are 4 reasons why you also may wish to adopt this strategy.

#1. Safety

While the tasks each service animal performs differ widely, dog guides certainly must concentrate on their work; a dog guide’s mistake could be fatal to the dog and the human it guides. Even in situations where severe injuries and death are not likely, safety is a top priority!

Nothing can prevent onlookers from speaking to your dog, and ultimately you, the handler, are responsible for keeping your dog focused on its work. Nevertheless, you can avoid some dangerous situations by giving strangers a fake name when they ask for one. Each of my guide dogs have react quite positively to hearing their names; they almost always do not react at all if you use a false name. If your dog doesn’t react when you call it by a false name, it is likely to pay much less attention to a stranger who uses that made-up name, keeping both you and your dog much safer.

#2. Distractions

While distractions are related to safety, something can distract a dog and be more of an annoyance than a major safety issue. Again, you cannot remove all possible distractions, but you can remove this frustrating one. Your dog may react to hearing, “Hi, doggie!” But it assuredly will react to, “Hey Juno (or whatever its actual name is!)” You probably can think of many situations where your dog got distracted. While the distraction may not have affected safety, it may have led to the dog misbehaving or losing focus, causing you to correct the dog. If the stranger called the dog by a fake name, the dog probably didn’t react, wasn’t distracted, and didn’t get corrected.

#3. Fun

Ok, this concept may seem strange to some of you, but some people wish their dog’s name was different. Maybe you really don’t like your dog’s name, but, for the dog’s sake, you continue to use it. In public, however, why not use a made-up name? Not only would it, in this instance, lessen distractions and improve safety—it also lets you pretend, even if only for a short time, that your dog had the name you would have chosen instead of its name that you really have trouble tolerating.

Perhaps you have no interest in changing your dog’s name, but you du enjoy pranking others. Giving someone who asks a made-up name for your dog, if nothing else, is a way to prank, fool, or trick someone, and if you’re a prankster, you can have your fun and be safer at the same time. Incidentally, the lady on the Paratransit vehicle cited each of these three reasons when explaining why she used that false name.

5 Tips for Choosing the Best Fake Name

So you’ve decided to try using a fake name for your dog in public; here are 6 tips for picking the best one for you.

#1. Differs Totally from Dog’s Actual Name

Since the goal is for the dog not to react to the name, it should be totally different from the dog’s real name. For instance, if your dog’s name is Hannah, you would steer clear of Ana, Briana, Angela, and maybe any name starting with the letter H. Names like Sally, Trish and Meg would work.

#2. Differs from the Name of a Dog You Are Around Often

You’ve selected a name you like for your dog, but you run into a problem; it sounds too much like the actual name of a dog someone else has at work. Your colleague’s dog is named Larry. You realize that Gary probably isn’t a good name since it’s too similar to your colleagues’ dogs’ name. If this happens, pick something very unique so you don’t cause another dog handler unnecessary problems.

#3. Gender-Neutral or Fits Dog’s Gender

We don’t want to stifle your creativity; nevertheless, you probably don’t want to call your mail dog, Jennifer or your female dog, Rex. You don’t want someone to say something like, “No really! What’s your dog’s name?” Choose a name that is believable, or the stranger may realize you’re “Playing” them which just might lead that stranger to develop a negative opinion of people with disabilities.

#4. Not Offensive

It happens! You come in contact with someone who makes you uncomfortable and may even be a threat to your wellbeing. Even so, it’s best not to use a false name that is offensive or draws too much attention to yourself. Your dog can’t go by “Killer”, “Cujo”, or some other name that makes it out to be overly aggressive. The last thing you want is for someone to call your bluff and try to hurt you or your dog. Using a name that implies that your dog is aggressive draws undue attention to you and the dog—attention you definitely don’t want or need.

#5. Something You Like

If you’re going to use a fake name, make it something you like, especially if you aren’t thrilled with the dog’s real name. Also, if someone’s going to use the name to try to get the dog’s attention, it might as well be a name you would like your dog to have.

Final Thoughts

Here are a few things to consider as it relates to giving people a fake name for your dog.

Don’t Expect the Dog to Respond to It

Whatever situation you come up against, it’s unwise to use the dog’s fake name when you want it to obey you. Use the dog’s real name, and speak at a lower volume, or use hand signals to get the dog to do what you want. In some instances, you don’t need to use a name at all. Many times I’ll say something like, “Come on Mr.” or “Let’s go, boy!” My dog still pays attention, and I didn’t have to use his name.

Admittedly, such a scenario may make you decide that you can just take your chances with just telling people your dog’s real name. I found, though, during my most recent trip to train with a new dog that distractions in public places were easier to handle if the inquisitive public didn’t know my dog’s actual name and couldn’t distract him in that particular way. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if this method will work for you. Maybe you can try it when you go somewhere you won’t go often so you can see if it works well for you.

Avoid Using a Fake Name with People You See Often

One time you probably do not want to employ a false name is around family, work colleagues, or around people you will know well. You are around these people and, in most cases, you can teach them not to use the dog’s name in a distracting way. They will ask how your dog is doing and may use its name, but that usage usually is not distracting.

We have discussed reasons for using a false name in public for your service animal and provided tips for picking a name that works for you. You may wish to try it and see how well this method works for you. Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments or through social media.

Second photo caption: A female black lab laying down on a white couch with her head resting on a man’s legs. The dog is looking at the camera.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Voyager XL CCD Video Magnifier

Our object this week is an early video magnifier.  It was purchased second-hand by the donor, Pat Humphrey, circa 1985 from a Louisville Telesensory dealer, Dick Barnett, for $3,000. Low vision all her life, by the time she entered high school it had deteriorated to the point that she "couldn't read the blackboard."  Humphrey hid her visual abilities and remembered that "lots of people did not know I was blind."  She even drove a car, "though I knew I shouldn't."  After making do with optical magnifiers for years, she was delighted to acquire this unit, using it to read her mail and write checks.  A platter beneath the camera slides out and holds your reading material.  By moving the platter under the camera, you can scan around the document.  The picture from the camera is reproduced on the television monitor above.
The first closed circuit television or “CC-TV” units were developed by Samuel Genensky and his team at the Rand Corporation in the late 1960s.  By the early 1980s, there were a variety of models on the market.  The Voyager was a brand of Visualtek in Santa Monica, CA.  Visualtek was bought by Telesensory in 1989.  Telesensory Systems was a leading accessibility technology firm founded in 1970 at Stanford University.  By the 1980s they were beginning to focus exclusively on low vision products like the Voyager.  I found a video of one being used here.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, May 12, 2017

May 2017 APH News

This issue continues our focus on partnerships.
A Few of This Month’s Headlines:
Partnerships: You Cannot do it Alone
  • NEW! Bright Shapes Knob Puzzle
  • Order Fall 2017 Textbooks Now!
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • APH Annual Report Celebrates the Year of Braille
  • STEM Corner: the DNA RNA Kit
  • New on the APH Website: Tactile Skills Matrix
  • Parts Lists Download Page Now Available!
  • Typhlo and Tactus is Underway!
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Tactile Map of Southeast Asia

I love maps.  Maps help us find where we are right now, but they also help us dream of places we would like to go, and learn about places far away that we may never visit in person.  We have lots of maps here at APH, because geography is one of those core curriculum subjects that is not very accessible until you make a few adaptations.  Our object this week is a thermoformed relief map of Southeast Asia including the historical parts of Indochina—think Vietnam and Thailand--and island nations like Indonesia and the Philippines.  If you are not familiar with thermoforming, it basically involves heating sheet plastic in a way that forces it to form over a mold.  This one comes from a set made by the American Foundation for Oversea Blind (AFOB), around 1950, in Paris, France.  The water is indicated by horizontal ridges, and the relief helps you understand how mountainous the peninsula and many of the larger islands are.  The map is geopolitical, meaning it has national borders in raised lines, and the nations are keyed in braille, although the key to the captions is not embossed on the map itself.  The plastic is the same institutional green as my elementary school, although I don’t think that comes through in this photograph.  Back in the day, it was considered a calming and soothing color.  Perfect for studying geography!
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Light Detector Prototype

Light Detector Prototype             
Our object this week is small, about 6” long by 1.5” square.  There is not much to it, an aluminum box with a short piece of PVC pipe on one end and a blue button on top.  It is a battery powered prototype developed by inventor Tim Cranmer around 1982 of the “Kentucky Light Probe”.   When you pointed the tube at something and pressed the button, the unit would beep if it detected light.  Tim was Director of Technical Services for the Kentucky Department of the Blind.  He and his staff, folks like Fred Gissoni and Wayne Thompson, were constantly coming up with handy little devices like this.  Often they would publish the plans along with parts lists and let hobbyists assemble their own creations on the cheap.  If you wonder how Radio Shack ever made a profit, there is your answer.  Tim conceived this device to detect small lights, such as an on/off light on a household appliance or computer, or to generally detect if lights were working in a room.  By the way, there are apps for this now for your cell phone, just like everything else! Photo caption: Kentucky Light Probe.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Monday, April 24, 2017

Braille in the Modern Age (Article)

A portion of this article appears in the April 2017 APH News. We included it here because its author, APH's Director of Technology Product Research Larry Skutchan, delineates the usefulness and importance of braille today. Whether one uses hard copy braille, refreshable braille, or electronic braille, this article is sure to remind us of the continuing value of it while describing the unbreakable link between the use of braille and true literacy for students who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind.
Braille in the Modern Age
A few times each year, articles or shows are published rationalizing how braille is no longer relevant, questioning its usefulness, or misrepresenting statistics. In this modern age, it seems like there must be something better. 
Without usable vision, information must get to the brain through one of the four remaining senses. Touch and audio are the ones most relevant to literacy. A look at the facts helps explain why tactile instruction will never die out. 
Before braille existed, there were numerous attempts to find a method of reading for blind people. The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind includes a collection of interesting solutions. Until the system of punching dots in a pattern, however, those methods were difficult to produce, and more importantly, did not provide a way to write. With a simple slate and stylus, available for a few dollars, you can punch the braille patterns for the words from the back. The fact that you must write the letters backwards, and right to left, along with the difficulty of reading what you just wrote (with the current line enclosed in the slate) led to innovations such as the more efficient braillewriter. Unfortunately, the braillewriter seems to symbolize obsolescence itself in the media's eye. In reality, while it does not look very sleek or modern, the braillewriter serves as the equivalent of a pencil, and along with the slate and stylus, still provides the only way to write without requiring some kind of powered device. 
Using braille to label folders or papers provides a way to identify that material for years to come, without the need for additional equipment, something you cannot say for audio alternatives. Additionally, the equipment itself tends to become outdated or unusable quite quickly. A case in point is cassette tapes. As recently as 20 years ago, this was an audio alternative that was easy for anyone to reproduce. Now, they are a thing of the past. Sure, you can use barcode stickers as labels, but you still need a device to read those barcodes. Will there be a compatible barcode reader in 50 years? Will the format of the barcode remain the same? Who knows? Nevertheless, we do know that Braille will still be readable. 
Of course, braille came before audio recordings and synthetic speech, but those options do not take literacy into consideration. Using only audio, a child learning to read and write will not be able to explain how the words to, too, and two are used. Serial and cereal, meat and meet mean nothing for learners that rely solely on audio to learn. Moreover, it’s not just the homonyms that present problems—any kind of unusual, or even common, spellings are nearly impossible when your only means of absorbing information is auditory. 
Many people with normal hearing acknowledge that sound plays an important role in their lives; and some may even occasionally enjoy an audio book during the commute to and from work. But none would agree that it can replace the printed word, especially in regards to education. 
Literate adults, who lose their sight later in life, have the luxury of electing not too learn braille, but many do anyway—even for limited use such as braille labels and signage. 
Raising a child without literacy is not an option in today's economy. Illiteracy condemns one to a life of dependence. Ask the parent of a sighted child if they would consider removing print from their child's education in favor of audio, and you will see a reaction that only emphasizes the relationship between braille, print, and literacy. 
Literacy means much more than spelling alone. Punctuation, format, conjugation, etymology, and relationships, just to name a few, require something more than auditory means alone. The limitations of audio are apparent when you try to describe something as simple as the shape of a circle. Imagine attempting to convey some of the more complex concepts in the STEM subjects. 
High quality braille textbooks and tactile graphics provide students who are intellectually and physically capable of tactual reading an educational experience roughly equivalent to the written word. They contain many of the characteristics found in printed text and format. And, they represent the only means of literacy for a child with little or no usable vision. 
As with printed textbooks, braille textbooks are mostly produced in physical, embossed format. Likewise, as the print industry moves toward electronic delivery of content, braille distribution gradually shifts in that direction as well. Young children enjoy the rich experience of holding a braille or print-braille book as much as anyone. 
Refreshable braille displays are electronic devices that show a short line of braille characters comprised of pins that raise and lower for the pattern of the text included in that small view. They commonly show from 20 to 40 characters at a time. When used in conjunction with access software (for many devices), they display content from the screen of a computer or portable device. Refreshable braille allows multiple hardcopy volumes to be transported onto one small device. 
Thanks to standards like HTML5 and universal design concepts, access software, such as VoiceOver on the iPhone, can deliver that content in meaningful ways, in this case speech and braille. The only additional burden on the blind consumer is the cost of the refreshable braille display; the audio (speech synthesis) is free. 
Orbit Reader 20 represents a pivotal break in the cost of refreshable braille displays. However, despite the unrealized possibilities of past decades, there is still no practical way to display graphics or more than one line of braille at a time on an electronic braille device. This is one reason embossed textbooks remain the predominate distribution method of braille, especially for complex content. 
Fortunately, the industry is not sitting idle awaiting the arrival of electronic reproduction devices that show multiple lines and graphics. Skilled transcribers employ digital tools to translate, format, and draw tactile equivalents; and high-speed embossers and complex-drawing reproduction equipment are used to produce the textbooks. 
Research projects like BrailleBlaster, a desktop publishing system for braille, and Graphiti, a tactile graphics device, along with standards like EPUB, SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), and universal design, signify less resistance to the process of creating the tactile version of a textbook. 
Some of the most important advancements, in regards to converting text to braille, come from standards bodies such as the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These organizations research and create standards that developers can use to create software that reliably interprets electronic text and graphics. As these tools, standards, and techniques evolved over the past few decades, the dream of educational content becoming accessible is closer to a reality. 
Interestingly, one of the most difficult accessibility barriers to braille transcription continues to be the education of authors. The tools exist to translate the text into contracted braille, but the software to determine if the information makes sense without vision does not. For example, an early childhood textbook displays two lines, one red and one blue, requesting the student to decide if the blue line or the red line is longer. The tactile rendition must substitute patterns for the colors, and then insert a tactile graphic to match those patterns. A transcriber might change the sentence to ask about the solid or dotted line, and then draw the two lines with the correct patterns. This is one of the simplest examples possible to illustrate the issue. 
Given the recognition of importance of braille in the education of children with visual impairments, it is a wonder how braille continues to be so misrepresented. As with anything involving a number of factors, the answer is complicated. 
The first factor to understand is the categorization of blindness. Degrees of blindness vary widely. While there are many who maintain enough vision to travel without additional aids, or to read print with proper equipment and conditions, there are others whose vision will never support independent reading or whose vision is declining at such a rate for which braille proves to be more effective than print. 
Age and health are additional factors to consider as to the feasibility of learning braille. A child does not have a choice—he or she must learn braille to be literate. Adults who cannot develop the necessary tactile responses also do not have a choice, because they are unable to perceive braille. For those who fall between these extremes, the choice is less clear and depends largely on the progression of the eye condition, the ambitions and goals of the individual, and their age. 
Adults already literate when sight becomes inefficient may choose to forego developing the tactile sensitivity and understanding of the contractions and codes for braille. The child learning to read and write does not have this choice. And, while it is tempting to choose the path of least resistance—in this case audio—this is not what’s best for the kids. Parents know their children are just as capable as any child of learning to read and write. They want their children to lead independent, literate, and fulfilling lives, despite their visual impairments. Braille instruction is still the only way to do it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Braille Knitting Counter

A friend of mine was knitting at a concert a few weeks ago while she listened, and I thought of this clever little device.  I’ll admit that I am not exactly sure how it works, as I am not a knitter, but I think I understand the principle.  Simply put, losing track of where you are in a pattern is bad!   This “knitting clock” is used for counting rows as you knit. Sighted people might use a pencil and paper, or a mechanical counter.  It was adapted and sold by the Royal National Institute for the Blind in England, sometime after 1953. It consists of a square aluminum plate with black plastic pointers on both sides, fixed at the center. The side with the longer pointer is brailled with the numbers 6, 12, 18, and 24 in a clockwise pattern beginning at center right. There are 5 single dots between each number. The side with the shorter pointer has three evenly spaced inch marks along the top edge, in the form of notches. Numbers 25, 50, 75, 100, and 125 are brailled around the pointer. Photo caption: Aluminum and plastic knitting counter.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Playing Card Slate

Our object this week is humble enough, a piece of nickel-plated brass folded in half with seven windows at top and bottom.  Small cutouts on both sides make it easy to get cards in and out.  It was used to emboss braille by hand on a set of playing cards.  The Howe Memorial Press at the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts introduced it as the “Model 16” slate as early as 1927 (but probably earlier, that just happens to be the earliest catalog I’ve seen). You could buy a deck of pre-brailled playing cards from Perkins in 1927 for $1.00.  Or you could buy this little beauty for 50¢ and braille your own.  Here is an interesting link I found to an 1879 article in a British magazine explaining how to mark a set of cards using an alternative dot code.  By the way, you can still buy a playing card slate from Perkins Products! Photo caption:  Playing Card Slate, 3.5 x 2.5 inches
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

April 2017 APH News

This month we focus on partnerships. Our Braille Tales program developed from a partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

Partnerships: Vital to Providing Products and Services
  • NEW! Talking Typer™ (for iOS devices)
  • NEW! Woodcock-Johnson® IV Adapted for Large Print Readers
  • NEW! Spinner Overlays for the Light Box
  • NEW! APH InSights Art Calendar: 2018
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • At Home, Abroad—Partnerships Yield a Harvest of Books
  • Braille in the Modern Age
  • STEM Corner: Tactile Anatomy Atlas and the DNA RNA Kit
  • Planning Meeting for UEB Research
  • NIMAC Version 3 Launched with New Features
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Mold for a 12” Tactile Globe

Our object this week pulls back the curtain a bit on APH manufacturing processes.  It is the mold for the tactile globe we introduced in 1986.  APH has a long history with tactile maps.  Our first maps in the 19th century were hand carved from wood, but in the 1930s we began casting them in early plastics.  APH began manufacturing 12" globes in 1959.  Originally, the tabletop globes rested in a wooden cradle, but this model was designed for an aluminum stand.  The plastic parts of this globe were manufactured, painted, and assembled right here in Louisville.  The aluminum parts were purchased from the G.F. Cram Company, a major globe maker in Chicago.   This mold—a work of art in itself--was designed and fabricated in the APH model shop by master model maker Tom Poppe, circa 1985. The first photo: Epoxy mold for the 12” relief globe, two recessed hemispheres inside a red frame. The second photo: A finished 12” relief globe on its stand, water is light blue and the land is yellow with brown highlights.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Clarke & Smith Model 2048 “Tapette” Talking Book Machine

John Clarke and Alec Smith founded a radio repair company after WWII in Surrey, England.  They developed an early cassette based talking book machine in the 1950s.  Their half inch metal cassette was bulky and heavy and the player weighed over six pounds even without it!  But the idea was innovative and one step on the road to the modern cassette form of the 1970s.   The Royal National Institute for the Blind announced in 1960 that its talking book program would switch over from vinyl disk to the C&S cassette.  This machine, using a lighter, smaller plastic version of the C&S cassette was introduced in 1967.  These were used in Britain and the Commonwealth but never in the U.S. (We have included two photos. First photo caption:
The green plastic “Tapette” was 6 x 9 x 10” and had its simple controls on top. Caption for second photo: Black plastic “Tapette” cartridge and a black vinyl mailing pouch.)
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Rare Talking Book

Gulliver’s Travels
Our object this week is a recent find, and very significant.  In February 1936, APH installed a model recording studio in a small room in its already overcrowded building and began experimenting with a new idea:  the Talking Book.  The braille presses were humming, but American Foundation for the Blind President Robert Irwin had convinced the APH leadership that recorded books were the next big thing.  That year, APH recorded five books and the first, narrated by Louisville radio pioneer Hugh Sutton, was the Jonathan Swift classic “Gulliver’s Travels.”  Last autumn, an electrician in Colorado Springs named Michael Lucas got in touch with our museum.  He had fourteen vintage Talking Books from the earliest days of the program, and among them was a copy of Gulliver.  APH only pressed about 100 sets of that first book.  When Talking Book libraries began to convert from phonograph records to cassettes, most of these early records were destroyed or discarded.  This might very well be the only surviving copy of Gulliver.  We are very much looking forward to hearing Hugh Sutton, our first narrator, read again, so look forward to hearing it soon in this spot! (The photo shows a closeup of the record label).

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Musicwriter

Did you know that March is Music in Our Schools Month?  Our very unusual object this week is the Musicwriter, a patent electric typewriter whose key set was altered to type the full range of musical symbols.  It was invented by the prolific American composer Cecil Effinger in Colorado Springs in 1954, originally to type up musical scores.  The company he founded to manufacture it lasted more than thirty years.  Effinger, interestingly enough, taught instrumental music at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind for a few years in the late 1930s.  At APH, his invention was used to prepare proofreading copies of music in print as they were being translated into braille.  Braille sheet music used to be a major line at APH and our vaults are still filled with the stereotype plates used to emboss the music. (The photo shows the Musicwriter, and we include this information caption: The Musicwriter was a heavy gray aluminum machine, shoehorned into the case of an Olympia typewriter, but with a large cable to allow it to be connected to a computer.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Monday, March 13, 2017

Alexa, "Open March Madness"! Play the Accessible Bracket Game, and Get All Your March Madness Information!


If you’re anything like me, you find yourself caught up in the phenomenon aptly termed “March Madness.” Even the most casual college basketball fan can find something to interest them as it relates to March Madness—a local school who succeeds in the tournament, a small school who defeats bigger schools and advances, or the inspirational story of a player who has overcome adversity to make an impact on the tournament.

Filling Out an Accessible Bracket

Regardless of your level of tournament knowledge or interest, we provide you links for participating in an accessible bracket contest and for listening to or watching the games. If you have tried to play bracket contests in the past, you are keenly aware that many of them lack accessibility. There are too many available contests to test for accessibility, and interfaces change seemingly from year to year; however, we know that there is one specially created bracket contest, the goal of which is to provide a fully accessible bracket for screen readers. To participate, go to to get all of the information and to fill out a bracket.

Understand that going to the link shows you the bracket; you must click on the “pool” link to sign up, play the game, and create a potentially winning bracket. Also on this site are links for schedules, scores and live broadcasts from Westwood One Radio.

Terrill Thompson, who sets up this bracket, also runs an accessible sports list which you can subscribe to by filling out the form at Note that once you fill out the form, you must wait for moderator approval before you are subscribed.

Checking Out the Games

So how can we watch or listen to the games. The most comprehensive site is which contains schedule information, details on which television channel broadcasts each game, links to the March Madness Live app which provides radio and television broadcasts and a bracket game, and much more information. The games in the “First Four” round all are on TruTV; the remaining tournament games appear on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. Therefore, if you have all of these channels, you may flip from game to game on your television without being locked into watching a blowout simply because your CBS affiliate chose to show a particular game. You also may choose to stream the TV telecasts at

Listening to the Games

If you want just radio broadcasts, the best site is which will allow you to listen to every game including the First Four. You may also be able to replay games you missed, and game highlights and recaps certainly are available. Westwood One offers five channels; one is the national Westwood One broadcast which highlights one particular game and moves back and forth among the remaining action. If you listen on a “regular” radio and not using SiriusXM or the TuneIn app, you will hear this channel. If the game you care about most is not featured, you can hear it on the Westwood One site for free on one of the other four channels, one for each tournament region, or you can listen on SiriusXM Satellite Radio if you are a subscriber.

Finally, if you wish to listen to the games on your Smartphone, of course, you can use the SiriusXM app if you are a subscriber; however, the app that works best and usually is accessible enough, even if it is a bit confusing at first glance, is the TuneIn radio app. The quickest way to locate it is to search for TuneIn on your app store of choice; however, for more information, go to to read more information or download the app. Please note that TuneIn has a free version, a paid version that removes ads, and a premium version which offers a monthly subscription for listening to audio books, NFL and MLB broadcasts. You may select any of these options based on your particular taste, but please note that the free version is all that is necessary to listen to the NCAA tournament games.

All Information in One Place

Tournament coverage increases annually with games becoming available on more platforms each year. The most comprehensive roundup of every way to view tournament games in 2017 is found at which details how to watch games, listen to games, view highlights, play the official bracket game, download the March Madness Live App, and more. If you are uncertain about where to go to find information, go to this site as it links to anything and everything else you may wish to locate

Please note that we have not tested the app, the bracket game, or the methods for watching the games for accessibility. You may wish to do so at your convenience. We can say, however, that with all the partnerships mentioned on this page, individuals can access NCAA tournament games on 15 platforms, including Amazon Alexa Devices and Xbox for the first time. There also is a new interactive bracket via Apple TV. Additionally, Turner’s iStreamPlanet will handle live streaming infrastructure for all games made available through NCAA March Madness Live which is supposed to enhance the quality of the live stream. The site also boasts many other changes and upgrades. One which may especially interest people who are blind and visually impaired is the new March Madness Alexa skill which will allow fans to ask “March Madness” questions concerning scores and results and also provides direct access to the Westwood One play-by-play feeds. To interact with March Madness content using Alexa, download the March Madness skill and say, “Alexa, Open March Madness.”

The aforementioned site provides much greater detail about all of the options for viewing and listening to the games; check out and enjoy the Madness!

You may wish to try several bracket games and check for accessibility either on the website or the accompanying app. No matter how many contests you enter, please consider supporting the accessible bracket site,

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Sculpture of a Clenched Fist from the Father Thomas Carroll Collection

Sculpture of a Clenched Fist
Our object this week comes from our Father Thomas Carroll Collection.  Robert "Bob" Amendola (1909-1996) was an artist working as an engineering illustrator at an aircraft plant in the 1940s when he was “borrowed” by Father Carroll to help blinded veterans develop their sense of spatial awareness. After the war, Amendola joined Carroll at the Catholic Guild for the Blind in Boston and developed a course of spatial orientation and sound localization that he called "videation."  His work impacted thousands of trainees over four decades.  According to the Carroll Center website, "Amendola continued his work as an artist... completing many commissioned sculptures, notably the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of St. Thomas Moore at Yale University and the statue of George Washington Carver as a boy at his Diamond, Missouri birthplace, now a national monument."  This clenched fist is a plaster casting, painted dark bronze.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

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